Drivers traveling Interstate 75 between Temple Terrace and south Pasco County are discovering the road to a wider, improved interstate highway can be paved with potholes, scarred blacktop and split-level pavement.
It's part of a project to widen I-75 between Fowler Avenue in Temple Terrace and State Road 56 in Pasco. The $95 million undertaking will add lanes, build and upgrade bridges, and enhance traffic flow, highway officials say.
Florida Department of Transportation figures from 2011 — the most current numbers — show 60,000 to 130,000 vehicles pass through the construction zone daily. Those motorists must navigate a maze of construction barriers, equipment and activity at high speeds on a road that is being reworked in pursuit of greater safety.
The project, like a lot of road work, requires reconfiguring travel lanes and the markings that delineate them. Previously, lane changes usually were made by covering old markings with black paint and painting new lanes as needed. But that was confusing to drivers, highway experts say, because the paint did not always hide old lane markings.
Workers now often remove the old lanes by blasting them with water or steel pellets – in effect, grinding off the markings. The methods eliminate road markings, but they can damage pavement.
With the I-75 project, the high-pressure water has carved grooves in the roadway. The indentations are especially evident near Fletcher Avenue, between the on-ramp to northbound I-75 and the Fletcher Avenue exit where travel lanes have been moved to a part of the highway that originally was heavily marked with lines to keep out traffic.
Workers have put down new pavement to accommodate lane changes and cover damaged areas, but the coverage is not complete. In some locations, motorists travel with two wheels on new smooth pavement which is slightly higher than the old roadway.
Department of Transportation spokesperson John McShaffrey said it's a consequence of keeping the project within its budget.
"It's very expensive to repave and if we were to do that before the project is done it could be ruined by changes that have to be made," he said. "We try to stretch the tax dollars as far as possible to make the project successful."
McShaffrey said road conditions are monitored to ensure safety as much as possible, but motorists should be vigilant. He recommended maintaining adequate spacing between cars, not speeding and avoiding distractions.
"It's especially important to pay attention in a construction zone because you may drift over to a stretch of road that's different from what you had been driving on," he said.
The good news: Motorists should have a smoother ride along the southern end of the project — from south of Fowler Avenue to Fletcher Avenue — within a year.
It likely will take more than a year to significantly improve the stretch of interstate highway from Fletcher Avenue to south of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, McShaffrey said. The timetable depends on how well work on widening the bridges over the Hillsborough River progresses.